Welfare in Canada

British Columbia

Last updated: December 2021

This resource is not intended to help individuals identify what government transfers they could be entitled to. Individuals living in British Columbia seeking financial assistance should visit this page.

Components of welfare incomes

In British Columbia, households that qualify for basic social assistance payments also qualify for:

  • Recurring additional social assistance payments from the province;
  • Federal and provincial child benefits (for households with children); and
  • Federal and provincial tax credits or benefits.

Together, these combine to form a household’s total welfare income. Households may receive less if they have income from other sources, or more if they have special health- or disability-related needs. In 2020, these households were also eligible for benefits introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The table below shows the value of the welfare income components of the four example household types in British Columbia in 2020. All four households are assumed to be living in Vancouver. The child in the single parent family is two years old and the children in the couple household are ten and 15. COVID-19 pandemic-related payments are included in the basic social assistance, child benefit, and tax credit/benefits amounts, where applicable.

Components of welfare incomes, 2020

Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Total annual welfare incomes in 2020 ranged from $12,852 for the unattached single considered employable to $36,744 for the couple with two children. The unattached single with a disability received $18,644 and the single parent with one child received $26,049.

Basic social assistance: Three of the example households received Income Assistance while the unattached single with a disability received Disability Assistance. Monthly basic social assistance benefit amounts remained unchanged in 2020. However, all four households received a COVID-19 Crisis Supplement of $300 per month per adult starting in April.

Additional social assistance: All four households received additional social assistance benefits. All four received an annual Christmas Allowance in the amount of $35 for the unattached single households and $70 plus $10 for each dependent child for the single parent and couple households. The couple with two children also received an annual School Start-Up Supplement of $100 for the ten-year-old and $175 for the 15-year-old. The unattached single with a disability received the $624 Transportation Supplement, which recipients could choose to receive as a bus pass issued through the BC Bus Pass Program or as a $52 per month payment intended to assist with transportation costs.

Federal child benefits: Both households with children received the Canada Child Benefit (CCB), which increased with inflation in July 2020 from $553.25 to $563.75 per month for a child under six years of age and from $466.83 to $475.67 per month for a child aged six to 17. In addition, they received a one-time COVID-19 pandemic-related CCB top-up payment of $300 per child in May.

Provincial child benefits: The single parent with one child received the B.C. Early Childhood Tax Benefit (BCECTB) amount of $55 per month from January through September. Effective October 1, the B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit replaced the BCECTB and both households with children became eligible for the maximum monthly amounts of $133.33 for the first child and $83.33 for the second child.

Federal tax credits / benefits: All four households received the GST/HST credit, which increased in July 2020 with inflation. The unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability both received $293, the single parent with one child received $586, and the couple with two children received $894. The unattached single with a disability also received $87.20 through the GST/HST credit supplement, while the single parent with one child received the full amount of $154.

A one-time COVID-19 pandemic-related GST/HST credit top-up payment, delivered in April 2020, provided the basic amount of $290 to both the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability. The single parent with one child received $733 and the couple with two children received $886.

Provincial tax credits / benefits: All four households also received the BC Sales Tax Credit and the BC Climate Action Tax Credit (BCCATC). The BC Sales Tax Credit amount was unchanged at $75 per adult. The maximum BCCATC increased in July 2020, from $154.50 annually to $174 for each adult and the first child in a single parent family, and from $45.50 to $51 for any additional children. As well, all four households received a one-time COVID-19 pandemic top-up to the BCCATC of $174.50 per adult, or first child in a single parent family, and $51.50 for any additional children.

COVID-19 pandemic-related payments

Pandemic-related payments available to the example British Columbia households came primarily from provincial programs (i.e., the COVID-19 Crisis Supplement for households receiving social assistance and the BC Climate Action Tax Credit), but federal programs (i.e., the GST/HST credit and Canada Child Benefit) also contributed. In total, the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability received an additional $3,165 related to the pandemic, while the single parent with one child received $4,082 and the couple with two children received $7,338. These amounts are included in, and are not in addition to, the benefits described in the Components section above.

COVID-19 pandemic-related payments, 2020

 

Changes to welfare incomes

The graphs below show how the total welfare incomes for each of the four example household types in British Columbia have changed over time. Note that the values are in 2020 constant dollars, and not in nominal dollars. This takes into account the effect of inflation as measured by the national consumer price index, given that inflation reduces real dollar values over time.

Welfare incomes for both unattached singles have followed a very similar pattern. An overall increase in value until 1994 was followed by a decline between 1994 and 2016, with a brief increase in the mid-2000s. Since 2016, welfare incomes have seen a notable increase. The particularly large increase to the total welfare incomes of both these households in 2020 is primarily a result of provincial COVID-19 pandemic-related payments.

In 2020, the unattached single considered employable received $12,852 in total income and the unattached single with a disability received $18,644, which are both the highest values for these households across the time series.

A general decline in welfare incomes for households with children between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s followed increases that were seen through the 1980s. Small increases in the mid-2000s were followed by another gradual decline until 2014. Changes to child benefits caused welfare incomes to increase between 2015 and 2018. In 2020, welfare incomes rose sharply, due primarily to COVID-19 pandemic-related payments from both provincial and federal programs.

In 2020, the single parent with one child received $26,049, while the couple with two children received $36,744, both of which are by far the highest values recorded for these households across the time series.

Adequacy of welfare incomes

The adequacy of a household’s total welfare income can be assessed by comparing it to a set threshold of poverty and/or low income.

In Canada, there are two commonly used measures of poverty:

  • Canada’s Official Poverty Line, the Market Basket Measure (MBM), identifies households whose disposable income is less than the cost of a basket of goods and services that represent a basic standard of living.
  • Deep Income Poverty (MBM-DIP) identifies households whose disposable income is less than 75 per cent of the MBM.

There are also two commonly used measures of low income:

  • The Low Income Measure (LIM) identifies households whose income is substantially below what is typical in society (less than half of the median income).
  • The Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) identifies households that are likely to spend a disproportionately large share of their income on the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter.

Note that MBM thresholds vary by province and community size, and LICO thresholds vary by community size, and so those for Vancouver are used in the analysis below. As well, both the MBM and LIM thresholds are estimates based on increasing the 2019 thresholds to account for inflation.

Note also that none of the poverty or low-income measures currently in use in Canada account for the higher cost of living faced by persons with disabilities, and thus these additional costs are not reflected in our analysis.

More information about the thresholds is available in the methodology section.

A table containing comparisons of the welfare incomes of the four example household types in British Columbia with all four poverty / low-income thresholds is available for download.

Poverty threshold comparisons

The figures below compare 2020 welfare incomes for the four example household types to the MBM and MBM-DIP thresholds for Vancouver.

The welfare incomes of all four example household types in British Columbia in 2020 were below Canada’s Official Poverty Line, meaning all these households were living in poverty. All were also living in deep poverty in 2020, as defined by the MBM-DIP.

The unattached single considered employable had the lowest income relative to the poverty thresholds. Their income was $6,031 below the deep income poverty threshold and $12,325 below the poverty line. In other words, their income was only 68 per cent of the MBM-DIP and only 51 per cent of the MBM.

The unattached single with a disability fared better, with an income that was only $239 below the deep income poverty threshold but $6,533 below the poverty line. In other words, their income was 99 per cent of the MBM-DIP and 74 per cent of the MBM.

Note that the poverty experienced by persons with disabilities is under-represented given that neither the MBM nor the MBM-DIP account for the additional costs of disability.

The incomes relative to the poverty thresholds of the two households with children were comparable.

The income of the single parent with one child was $654 below the deep income poverty threshold and $9,556 below the poverty line. This means their income was 98 per cent of the MBM-DIP and 73 per cent of the MBM.

The income of the couple with two children was $1,021 below the deep income poverty threshold and $13,610 below the poverty line. In other words, their income was 97 per cent of the MBM-DIP and 73 per cent of the MBM.

Low-income threshold comparisons

The welfare incomes of these households were also below, and in some instances only half of, the low-income thresholds, as shown in the table linked above.

The lowest income relative to the thresholds was that of the unattached single considered employable, whose total welfare income was only 51 per cent of the LIM and 58 per cent of the LICO. The highest was that of the unattached single with a disability, whose welfare income was 74 per cent of the LIM and 85 per cent of the LICO.

The single parent with one child had an income of 73 per cent of the LIM and 97 per cent of the LICO. The income of the couple with two children was 73 per cent of the LIM and 88 per cent of the LICO.

Changes to adequacy of welfare incomes

The graph below shows the total welfare incomes of each of the four example household types in British Columbia since 2002 as a percentage of the MBM, which indicates changes in their level of poverty over time. A rise in the trendline indicates an improvement in their level of poverty, while a decline indicates a worsening of their poverty.

Note that the MBM thresholds reflect the base in use in each year in question (i.e., the 2000, 2008, and 2018 bases; the latter two are indicated with vertical lines in each graph). Rebasing creates a sufficiently higher threshold than that using a previous base, which typically results in a worsening of poverty in the year in which the new base is used. As noted above, MBM thresholds vary by province and community size, and so Vancouver is used. Also note that the 2020 MBM thresholds are estimates. More information is in the methodology section.

The year 2020 saw the welfare incomes of all four example households reaching their highest levels relative to the poverty line across the 2002-2020 time series.

The welfare income of the unattached single considered employable generally declined in value relative to the MBM between 2002 and 2018, moving from 44 per cent to 38 per cent, with a slight uptick in 2007. Rebasing of the MBM in 2008 and 2018 resulted in a worsening of their poverty. However, progress was made in 2019 and 2020. In 2020, their income was 51 per cent of the poverty line.

The welfare income of the unattached single with a disability began the time series at 66 per cent of the poverty line and fluctuated until 2007, when their income reached 69 per cent. The 2008 MBM rebasing resulted in a worsening of their poverty to 63 per cent, followed by a steady decline to its lowest point of 57 per cent in 2015. An uptick in 2017 took their welfare income to 65 per cent of the poverty line. Rebasing of the MBM in 2018 again saw a worsening of their poverty. Progress was made in 2020, however, at which point their income was 74 per cent of the poverty line.

The welfare income of the single parent with one child generally fared best relative to the poverty line. Movement, from 66 per cent of the poverty line in 2002 to 71 per cent in 2007, was followed by regression back to 66 per cent with the 2008 MBM rebasing. A fairly steady decline to 63 per cent in 2014 followed, with an uptick to 70 per cent in 2017. MBM rebasing in 2018 resulted in a worsening of their poverty to 60 per cent, but was followed by improvements that saw their 2020 income stand at 73 per cent of the poverty line.

The welfare income of the couple with two children hovered at around 60 per cent of the poverty line between 2002 and 2014, with a worsening of poverty accompanying the 2008 rebasing. Improvements between 2014 and 2017 were followed by a decline with the 2018 rebasing. Slight progress in 2019 was followed by significant progress in 2020, at which point their welfare income went from 56 to 73 per cent of the poverty line.